I’ve Seen This Movie Before

Movie Theater

Movie Theater (Photo credit: roeyahram)

I have yet to watch Man of Steel. I am somewhat excited to see it, but I have heard some reasonable criticism from people whose opinions I respect. I probably will still see it, but there is a particular point made by those who have been disappointed in it that disturbs me. Apparently, like too many action movies throughout the history of the genre, it celebrates American militarism. Maybe I am making too much of a deal out of this, but I cannot help but worry about the effect this propaganda has on us as a culture.

Even without a gigantic library of pro-America, pro-military movies we have a glut of nationalist cheer-leading in this country. We have at least six holidays dedicated to national identity, with half of them devoted to celebrating our armed forces in one way, shape, or form. We honor those serving, that served, and who made the ultimate sacrifice. Which is just fine, our service men and women deserve to be honored for their willingness to put themselves on the line for us. When you put on a uniform you are accepting life as a legitimate target. No easy decision, I can tell you.

The problem is not with those that put on the uniform (though perhaps with a few at the top that encourage what I am about to mention) but the fetishization of the institution itself. We place the military above all other needs in our society. We put it above our need to feed, clothe, and shelter our most vulnerable citizens. We put it above our need to fund those agencies that protect us from corporate malfeasance, and we put it above our need to create sustainable jobs.

And we’ve seen this movie before. It played in Napoleonic France, in Nazi Germany, and in Soviet Russia. All societies that imploded under the weight of their national pride. Each let the military take front and center to various detriments for their larger community. France and Russia overextended themselves until the economic burden of their militarism became too much to bear. Nazi Germany, among other bad things resulting from the apotheosis of their military machine, transformed into a cold, lifeless culture, with neighbor afraid of neighbor lest they were informed upon for treason until there was no longer a sense of community.

It does not have to be like this. We can still honor our servicemen without holding the idea of the military above all else. We can have our security (easily at half the price) without bankrupting ourselves, financially or morally. Long ago one of my school teachers, the wise and, I think, prescient Mr. Frazier pointed out that all empires end, and it would be up to us to decide what that means for America. We can choose to let our empire slip peacefully away and remain a respected member of the international community, like the United Kingdom, or we can go the way of Germany, gripping our national pride to the bitter end, and hope that those we victimize in the process show us as much mercy as the world did them. I would prefer the former script. It seems a happier movie for all.

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